TIME human behavior

Good Manners on Death Row: Why Condemned Southerners Are More Polite

After you: Good manners may prevail even in the death chamber
After you: Good manners may prevail even in the death chamber Edward McCain; Getty Images

Ancient codes of courtesy can be hard to unlearn, even for the worst of the worst. A new study shows why.

Let’s say you’re about to be executed. Let’s say you’re given a chance to say some final words. What are the odds you would say, “Go Raiders,” or “I could sure go for some beef stew and a chicken bone,” or “For what? You motherf*****rs haven’t paid any attention to anything I’ve said for the last 22-1/2 years…”? In the alternative, what are the odds that you might say, “I wish to apologize to the people I’ve hurt and I ask their forgiveness, I don’t deserve it but I ask for it,” or “I know I took someone very precious to you…I would pay it back a thousand times to bring back your loved ones…”?

The answer may depend on where you grew up. If you’re from the North or West, you’re likelier to stay badass till the end; if you’re from the South, you’re likelier to show some remorse. The bad guys who talked football, chicken and trash were from Arizona, Ohio and Ohio; the ones who showed some curtain-call decency were from Alabama and Texas.

The last second good manners of Southerners going to their deaths after a life of the worst kind of crimes was documented in a new paper published in Sage Open, titled, straightforwardly, “Honor on Death Row.” Its curious findings tell us a lot about not just the exceedingly specialized population of condemned men, but about the curious duality of human morality as a whole.

The study, conducted by Judy Eaton, a professor of criminology and law at Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario, surveyed the last words of 279 white males, looking for six qualities: an apology, an acceptance of responsibility, a request for forgiveness, an expression of regret, a sense of remorse and a general phrasing that suggested earnestness. Consistently, Eaton found, it was the Southerners who did better than the Northerners, and the reasoning has to do with what she called the “honor culture” of the Old South.

Honor cultures are built on highly codified, Kabuki-like courtesies and by-your-leaves, which themselves grow from a finely honed sense of the kinds of things that give offense and the serious price that may be paid if you cross that boundary. In the case of the South, Eaton and earlier researchers believe that honor culture goes all the way back to the herding populations of the Scots and Irish who were among the first to settle the region. When you’re a herdsman, everything depends on respecting territory and grazing grounds and you’d best have a good excuse and a believable apology ready if you don’t stay on your side of the line. Once a mind-your-manners ethos gets encoded in the social genome, it doesn’t go away.

Not everyone is invited into the honor culture. In the Old South, it was a white males only club, which is why Eaton eliminated 231 non-whites and nine women from her executed sample group. The variable she was investigating, at least in this study, was geography alone.

OK, most folks don’t have a lot in common with the moral monsters who usually wash up on death row. But the fact is, we’re all born with a basic moral software that evolved over millions of years, got more and more complex as our brains did and was absolutely essential if a highly social species like ours was going to survive. Ethicists and behavioral scientists refer to that fundamental set of behavioral guidelines as moral grammar. As with real grammar, its rules are often broken; as with real software, it can become corrupted.

A lot of things can cause that breakdown: life experience, deprivation, poverty, psychological disorders. All of those can be turbo-charged by nothing more than a mean streak. Not every poor or deprived person winds up on death row, after all, and moral grammar does include a component of accountability: sometimes you get in trouble because you’re just a nasty bastard and make bad choices. But good choices—and good manners—can be become permanent habits, one more reason we have survived as a species.

I’m put in mind of a young, southern officer I met during a visit to the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower. The difficulty of navigating the narrow corridors of all Naval vessels is simplified a bit by the rule that a lower-ranking person must always yield to a higher ranking person approaching from the other direction. The officer I spoke to admitted that that became hard for him when he began serving with lower-ranking women.

“I was brought up to stand aside and let a woman pass,” he told me. “It just feels wrong not to.”

Archaic? Maybe. Out of step with our supposedly sexually egalitarian military? Sure. But sweet too—you have to admit it’s sweet. And his mother would probably be proud.

Such tiny grace notes occur all the time, every day, and help us—in our own flawed and fractious way—get along. That is no bar to the worst of us coming to an ugly end. But the fact that, even as that end plays out, a flicker of our better tendencies sometimes resurfaces, provides a small bit of hope.

TIME White House

Obama Eyes Equal Pay For Women Amid Election-Year Push

The president signed executive orders to make it easier for female federal contractors to get equal pay as he pushes Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has foundered twice in Congress but is set for another vote this week

President Barack Obama moved Tuesday to close the pay gap between male and female federal contract employees who do the same job, his latest play on the issue ahead of the midterm elections.

Obama signed two executive orders amid the Democrats’ focus on income inequality and specifically pay inequity for women in 2014. The new orders—which coincided with a fresh push to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act that has foundered twice in Congress but is set for another vote this week—forbid federal contractors from punishing workers who discuss salaries, and also require contractors to disclose more data about their wages.

“Pay secrecy fosters discrimination, and we should not tolerate it, in federal contracting or anywhere else,” Obama said at the White House, on a day activists have dubbed Equal Pay Day. Obama said the orders are designed to increase transparency in the workplace, but Republican critics are dismissing them as political pandering aimed at galvanizing female support for the midterm elections.

“Even though we know that when economists control for any number of important factors—such as college major, work experience, time spent out of the workplace—the pay gap shrinks to almost nothing, the president, Democratic lawmakers, and progressive activists continue to use this faulty statistic—and this faux holiday—to justify growing government in the name of protecting women,” Sabrina Schaeffer, who heads the Independent Women’s Forum, said in a statement. “That’s why it’s fitting that Senate Democrats have chosen this occasion to push the ‘Paycheck Fairness Act,; which is also misleadingly named, since it will do nothing to promote fairness and certainly won’t help more women get a paycheck.”

Obama was introduced by Lilly Ledbetter, the worker who sued for back wages after she found out her employer had paid her male colleagues more for doing the same job. Ledbetter, the namesake of a 2009 pay equity law, only found out about the wage disparity because of an anonymous note, and only after the statute of limitations for her to sue for backpay had lapsed. Obama said there needs to be more transparency so that women know whether or not they’re getting a fair deal.

“Some commentators are out there saying the pay gap doesn’t exist,” he said. “They say it’s a myth. But it’s not a myth, it’s math. I mean, Lily Ledbetter didn’t just make this up.”

Republicans say the wage gap is a trumped-up issue Democrats are using to bolster female support for the midterm elections. Some have criticized Obama as hypocritical after a conservative think tank study found that female White House staffers make 12% less than their male colleagues—a figure better than 77% national average but still one being seized upon.

“What I can tell you is that we have as an institution here have aggressively addressed this challenge, and obviously, though, at the 88 cents that you cite, that is not a hundred, but it is better than the national average,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

TIME Chris Christie

Watch Joy Behar Tell Chris Christie: ‘You’re Toast’

The New Jersey governor appeared to have a sense of humor failure as the former host of The View joked about his ongoing bridge scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared to lose his cool somewhat during a celebrity roast last week, as former The View host Joy Behar tossed zingers in his direction and not at the honoree.

The April 1 roast was for the 90th birthday celebration of former New Jersey governor, Brendan Byrne. Christie hosted the celebrity roast for Byrne, and he became the butt of many jokes about the George Washington Bridge scandal.

But Behar’s remarks seemed to hit home. In a video that surfaced Tuesday, Behar said that when she heard Christie had caused traffic jams, she thought: ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?”

Christie eventually interrupted her, according to The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza, who attended the event. “This is a Byrne roast,” he said, before standing and attempting to steal her notes.

The exchange ended, Lizza reports, with a “rattled” Behar telling Christie: “I really don’t know about the Presidency. Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.”

TIME National Security

Snowden: NSA Ignored My Formal Complaints

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

The former National Security Agency contractor says he voiced his concerns to the agency's oversight and compliance bodies before leaking classified data that set off a global debate on the ethics of government surveillance

Former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has insisted he voiced concerns to the NSA over the breadth of its surveillance programs before he decided to leak classified data, in a new interview with Vanity Fair.

NSA deputy director Rick Ledgett, who investigated Snowden, has claimed the former contractor never filed a complaint formally, or personally to any of his colleagues. But Snowden denies this, saying he did make complaints, and some were over email to NSA’s lawyers. In the interview, Snowden “directly” challenges NSA to deny he went to NSA oversight and compliance bodies with complaints.

Snowden also addresses rumors about the number of documents he has in his possession, including reports that they number 1.7 million. Snowden says that’s simply a “scare number” from investigators. “What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the N.S.A.’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it?’” Snowden says.

Excerpts from the interview were published on the same day Snowden claimed the NSA targeted human rights groups, The Guardian reports. In live testimony by videophone before human rights body the Council of Europe, Snowden said groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International may have been under surveillance.

“The NSA has targeted leaders and staff members of these sorts of organisations, including domestically within the borders of the United States,” he said.

Snowden told Vanity Fair that popular opinion is shifting on how far the government should go to keep its citizens safe. “What we’re seeing today in America is a new political movement that crosses party lines,” he said. “This post-terror generation rejects the idea that we have to burn down our village in order to save it—that the only way to defend the Constitution is to tear it up.”

[Vanity Fair]


USAID Denies ‘Cuban Twitter’ Was Meant To Subvert

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The government's international development agency has rebutted claims that the U.S. aimed for the social network ZunZuneo, which failed to nab a massive user base, to spark a revolution in Cuba as administrator Rajiv Shah prepares to be grilled by lawmakers

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development pushed back against reports it created a “Cuban Twitter” to foment revolution in the Communist country at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, which controls USAID spending, told USAID administrator Rajiv Shah that launching the social network in Cuba had been a “cockamamie idea.”

A recent report by the Associated Press described ZunZuneo, which is slang in Cuba for a hummingbird’s tweet, as a social network designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society” and incite a “Cuban spring.”

Leahy said the work USAID did in Cuba knowingly put government contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island for four years, in direct danger. He voiced concerns that the project’s discovery will put other USAID workers around the globe at risk.

But Shah, who took the helm in 2009, denied the program’s purpose extended beyond improving communication networks within the country. “Working to improve platforms of communication is a core part of what USAID works to do,” Shah said. “It’s inaccurate that [the program] goes beyond that.”

The government agency had published a blog post ahead of Shah’s testimony, saying that the AP’s story “makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.” The article went on to rebut eight of the AP’s claims, denying there was any attempt to trigger unrest and saying ZunZuneo was merely an attempt to overcome the “information blockade” in Cuba.

Shah claimed he did not know whose idea it had been to set up the program.


TIME nature

California Bill Would End Killer Whale Shows At SeaWorld

If animal activists get their way, there will be no more Shamus at SeaWorld

A proposed bill in the California legislature could force SeaWorld San Diego to stop using killer whales in its shows.

The bill, which was spurred by a documentary on killer whale treatment in captivity, would ensure SeaWorld’s 10 killer whales are placed in a larger pen and would prohibit them from being bred. The California Assembly is holding its first hearing today on bill AB2140, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom. If passed, the bill would also ban importing and exporting of killer whales.

The 2013 documentary Blackfish chronicled the treatment of killer whales at sea parks. Animal activists argue the whales are intelligent, and it’s cruel to force the creatures to perform and live in captivity. But SeaWorld argues that the killer whales are treated with care, and that the motivation behind the bill is based on emotion. They argue that keeping the animals in captivity is very important for conservation research.

[The Washington Post]

TIME Crime

Report: Al Sharpton Was FBI Informant on the Mob

Inaugural Black History Month Awards Luncheon With Rev. Al Sharpton
Earl Gibson—WireImage/Getty Images

Sharpton has already denied claims on the The Smoking Gun's website that he went to mobsters' hangouts in the 1980s as "Confidential Informant No. 7" with a bugged briefcase to provide information to a joint NYPD-FBI task force

The Rev. Al Sharpton has served as an outspoken civil rights activist, presidential nominee, television host, and, if a new report is to be believed, a key informant to the FBI.

According to a lengthy report by website The Smoking Gun, Sharpton, 69, served as “Confidential Informant No. 7″ in the 1980s, playing a prominent role collecting information on New York City’s most prolific mobsters. Sharpton has denied the claims.

In a Tuesday morning press conference, Sharpton said that he wasn’t an informant but rather he was merely cooperating with the FBI. “I’m not a rat, I’m a cat,” Sharpton reportedly said, according to journalists live-tweeting the event. He continued that the only thing he was ashamed of were “those old fat pictures” that have been shown in conjunction with the reports.

The Smoking Gun’s report — based on interviews, court records, and hundreds of pages of documents obtained as the result of requests invoking Freedom of Information Act — claims that Sharpton worked for a joint FBI/NYPD crime task force that was primarily pursuing the notorious Genovese crime family. Sharpton allegedly was sent out to talk to mobsters with a bugged briefcase. The website said that information he obtained led to the bugging of two Genovese family social clubs, three cars and a dozen phone lines approved by eight different federal judges.

During Tuesday’s press conference, he admitted with working with the FBI for two years and wearing a wire to record conversations. “The conversations were recorded, and I would record them today,” he said. “We are victims trying to stop something.”

In a previous interview, Sharpton told the New York Times, “Most of what I’ve looked through [on The Smoking Gun] does not remind me of anything I was involved in.” The site says that Sharpton denied its claims in an interview, particularly ones stating that he was “flipped” after a drug deal. “The claim is I helped get the mob, not that I was in the mob,” Sharpton said. “I was never told I was an informant.”

It has long been known that Sharpton worked with the FBI in the 1980s to assist in an investigation against boxing promoter Don King. He told the New York Daily News that he contacted authorities after Gambino family member Joseph Buonanno and others sent him death threats for trying to help African-Americans succeed on the business side of the music industry. “If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” he said. “I encourage kids all the time to work with law enforcement, you’re acting like it’s a scandal for me to do that?”


TIME States

Maryland Votes To Hike Minimum Wage, Reform Pot Laws

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

Gov. Martin O'Malley is now expected to sign a bill to raise the state's minimum hourly pay to $10.10, becoming the second state after Connecticut to act in support of President Obama's call for that federal wage, and another bill that decriminalizes small amounts of pot

The Maryland legislature voted to raise the minimum wage to President Obama’s goal of $10.10 and acted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana Monday in the final legislative session of Governor Martin O’Malley’s term. O’Malley is expected to sign both bills into law.

The legislature also outlawed “revenge porn” and finalized a bill to get tough on drivers who cause accidents because of cell phone use, but didn’t boost tax credit funding for productions like Netflix show House of Cards that shoot in the state, the Washington Post reports.

The new wage bill makes Maryland the second state after Connecticut to act in support of Obama’s call for a $10.10 federal minimum wage, compared to the current $7.25 hourly wage. The bill gives state business owners until 2018 to raise their wages, but the President applauded the legislature for “leading by example.”

The legislature also passed two marijuana bills. One would decriminalize possession of the drug in amounts under 10g, and impose civil fines instead. The other would make medicinal marijuana more widely accessible.


TIME movies

Hollywood Takes Megaupload to Court

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom at the New Zealand Court of Appeals in Wellington, on this Sept. 20, 2012.
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom at the New Zealand Court of Appeals in Wellington, on this Sept. 20, 2012. Marke Coote—Reuters

Six major film studios—Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Columbia and Warner Bros—have filed suit against the shuttered filesharing site for mass copyright violations, branding it an "unlawful hub for mass distibution"

Six major film studios have sued the file-sharing site Megaupload.

The studios—Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Columbia and Warner Bros—claimed the site and those running it were “encouraging and profiting” from breaches of copyright. The website’s founder Kim Dotcom denied the charges, the BBC reports, saying the site was only ever a storage service. He is fighting extradition to the U.S. from his New Zealand home to stand trial over charges of mass copyright infringement.

Megaupload was one of the biggest file-sharing sites before it was shut down by U.S. regulators in 2012. Megaupload was accused of allowing copyright-holders to lose more than $500m in revenue. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) insisted that because the site had paid its users to upload popular television programs and films, it was not purely a storage service.

Steven Fabrizio, the global general counsel of the MPAA, said that Megaupload’s content was almost always based on “stolen movie, TV shows and other commercial entertainment content.”

“Megaupload wasn’t a cloud storage service at all, it was an unlawful hub for mass distribution,” he said.

TIME weather

At Least Two Dead as Severe Storms Deluge the Southeast

Rusty Murphy
Firefighter Rusty Murphy wades through flood waters in a mobile home park in Pelham, Ala., on Monday, April 7, 2014. Jay Reeves—AP

Heavy rains inundated the American Deep South on Monday, causing widespread flooding throughout the region that killed two people

Severe thunderstorms flooded large swaths of the American southeast for the second straight day and have caused at least two deaths, including that of a nine-year-old girl in Mississippi who was reportedly swept away by floodwaters on Sunday night.

Officials recovered the body of Patrauna Hudson on Monday after she was last seen playing outside near her parent’s home in Mississippi’s Yazoo City northwest of Jackson the previous evening, according to the Associated Press.

The second reported death occurred outside of Atlanta in the suburb of Lilburn when a car swerved off the road and crashed into a local creek on Monday. Local firefighters were only able to recover the driver’s body hours later.

In nearby Augusta, Ga., a practice round ahead of this weekend’s U.S. Masters golf tournament was called off on Monday due to the excessive rain, the first time in an more than a decade such a cancelation had occurred.

Flood warnings remained in place across much of the southeast on Tuesday morning, with more rain forecast to inundate the affected areas for the next 48 hours.

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